Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Diversity, Part 2: The Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How

Who are we talking about in the name of Diversity?  How can we  know the extent of Diversity in meeting goals to increase Diversity unless we know who qualifies as Diverse?

Let’s begin with the simplest categories used by the U.S. Bureau of the Census.  The broad categories used in the 2010 Census, expected to be the same in 2020, are as follows:

White (non-Hispanic White)
Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish
Black or African American
American Indian or Alaska Native
Native Hawaiian or other Pacific islands
Some Other Race or Ethnicity (presumably includes mixed of two or more races)

Within each category are subcategories that specify country of origin.  For example, under Whites, specific countries include German, Italian, Irish, Polish, English, French, and a blank space in which to write another country, e.g., Swedish, etc.  The six listed are the most numerous.  Under Asians are Chinese, Filipino, Vietnamese, Korean, Asian Indian, Japanese, and a blank space to enter another country.  So, too, for Black or African American, and Hispanic, Latino or Spanish.

Going further, immigration data are broken down into every country from which immigrants arrive.  For example, 23 countries are listed from the Americas, of which 18 are Spanish speaking, thus Hispanic.  So, too, are immigrants from Europe, Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, Middle East and North Africa, Australasia and Oceania.

On the country level of race and ethnicity, there are well over a hundred subcategories.  If tribe and language are included, the number of subcategories increases by hundreds more.  Religion adds in more.

Universities and colleges use broad Census Bureau categories to report Diversity among students, staff, and faculty on a form known as the Common Data Set.  The CDS is a collaborative effort among data providers in the higher education community and publishers as represented by the College Board, Peterson’s, and U.S. News &World Report.  Its purpose is to provide accurate and timely data on 10 categories to students and their families who are applying to specific college(s) or university (ies) to make informed judgments on selectivity, admission requirements, affordability, financial aid, and other aspects of higher education.

Section B2 reports enrollment by Racial/Ethnic Category on enrolled first-year students and all undergraduates.  The categories are:

Nonresident aliens (no specific race/ethnicity of this category is reported)
Black or African American, non-Hispanic
White, non-Hispanic
American Indian or Alaska Native, non-Hispanic
Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander, non-Hispanic
Two or more races, non-Hispanic
Race and/or ethnicity unknown

Universities also report the percentage of First-Generation, Low-Income undergraduates they enroll, but do not list their racial/ethnic categories.

Some small colleges enroll as few as 250-300 students in their first-year class, which is less than the number of subcategories.  Even first-year classes of several thousand would find it impossible to accurately represent hundreds of subcategories.

No reasonably useful or practical measure of Diversity on the basis of hundreds of distinct subcategories could possibly be used as a policy guide in achieving a target level of Diversity in any organization or institution.  Practical considerations dictate a manageable number of categories, but any number chosen is arbitrary, however carefully designed to be fair.  It must treat unfavorably some subcategories that are grossly underrepresented for historical reasons.

Efforts are ongoing to increase the number of racial/ethnic categories in the decennial Census.  Some want the Census to count Middle East and North Africa as a separate category.  Or West/Central Middle East.  Or Sub-Saharan Africa.  Presumably universities, along with public and private enterprises, would follow suit.

Let’s complicate the story even further.  Who is Hispanic?  Consider a hypothetical case of two sets of identical twins born and raised in Spain, who marry each other.  One couple immigrates to the United states, the other to Mexico.  The children of the U.S. couple, who speak no Spanish and have never lived in a Central or South American country, are designated White in the Census.  The children of the Mexican couple, who subsequently move to the United States, are designated Hispanic.

Ditto for similar couples born and raised in Portugal.  Their children of the Portuguese couple who moved to Brazil are Latino if born in Brazil and thus eligible for Latino preference, but White and ineligible if born in the U.S. because their parents moved to the U.S. 

There is one broad category that many organizations, especially universities and colleges, agree on:  people of color (POC), or non-Hispanic White (hereafter White).  POC runs the gamut from below-poverty level Blacks and Hispanics to upper-income East and South Asians.  They have little in common apart from not being White.  For universities obsessed with Diversity, increasing POC for all non-White categories allows them to claim that they are no long racist institutions.  Universities that achieve 25% Hispanic/Latino/LatinX enrollment are eligible for extra federal funding.  Every University of California campus below 25% Hispanic is racing to meet the 25% level, largely by reducing White enrollment.

To summarize, there is a large degree of arbitrariness in the racial/ethnic classification of American residents, which means that any descriptive statistics on Diversity are somewhat arbitrary.